Last year, I had the pleasure of making a trip to Tamarindo in Costa Rica. After weeks of planning, we flew into Liberia and enjoyed 5 blissful days there. It was really fun to be in such a small town that was definitely friendly to travelers, without being crowded or feeling too touristy. We quickly fell in love with the low key vibe of this small beautiful town along the northern pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Now, my personal travel style is to save money when it makes sense by doing my research without putting myself in awkward, unsafe or unpleasant situations. If you can relate to that, this post will be perfect for you. Even if that isn’t your style, I’ll include plenty of options and let you decide what is best. I’ll make planning a bit easier for you by telling you exactly what we did or regretted not doing so that you can make memories as great as ours.
Getting To Tamarindo
To get to Tamarindo, you can either fly into Liberia and travel 45 minutes, or fly into San Jose and make the four to five hour drive.
The nearest international airport is in Liberia, Costa Rica. It is very small and feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. As you arrive, you will see the beautiful coast line and rolling hills before landing in what seems like a field, until at the last moment you see a small runway. There are several airlines that fly into it including American Airlines, JetBlue (my airline of choice), Southwest, West Jet, United, US Airways and a few others. I recommend flying directly into Liberia.
From San Jose to Tamarindo
If you are already in Costa Rica, Nature Air will take you directly to the Tamarindo Airport. I have seen flights from San Jose start at $59 each way.
There are a few other options to get to Tamarindo from San Jose. The cheapest option is by bus, which is only about $10. I would highly recommend this for a budget traveler. Jen at CostaRicaChica has a very in-depth article with her experience taking the bus from San Jose to Tamarindo. For even more information about taking the bus around Costa Rica, you can look here.
If you do not want to take the bus, flying is your bet since the flights won’t cost much more than a shuttle. If you have a large group with you, take a look at getting a shuttle that charges by the trip instead of per passenger, or there are a few other shuttles that are somewhere in between the price of a bus and a flight. Another benefit of a shuttle is that you can book them just a few days before you want to take them, so while I recommend making reservations well in advanced, a last minute shuttle ride could save you big bucks as compared to a last minute flight.
Another option is to rent a car. Honestly, once you get to Tamarindo you don’t really need a car, so I wouldn’t recommend going this route unless you have plans to go to another area later. If you do rent a car and are only going to Tamarindo, you do not need a 4×4 vehicle if you take the correct route. Also, renting a car in Costa Rica is more expensive than in the US because you are required to pay for basic insurance. And honestly, I had a rough experience at the car rental place and renting a car was the worst part of my trip. I would only recommend getting a rental car if you are actually exploring Costa Rica and are making trips to several cities. In that case, get a 4×4 and have a blast! If you do want a rental car to get around, here is a good post with plenty of info to help you out.
From Liberia Airport to Tamarindo
From Liberia there are busses, shuttles and rental car companies that make getting to Tamarindo very easy. Once again, if you are just going to go to Tamarindo I would recommend avoiding renting a car. You can even take day trips by shuttle to other cities while you are in Tamarindo, making it even easier to get around and see a lot without a car. Another option is taking a shuttle to Tamarindo, getting around by Taxi and foot around the town, then renting a car in Tamarindo to go out for any day trips.
Check with your accommodations to help arrange a shuttle. Otherwise, here are a few options that I have found recommended that are all around $25/person.
Liberia to Tamarindo Shuttle Services
Liberia to Tamarindo by Bus
Getting to Tamarindo by bus is actually pretty easy and cheap. There is bus stop near the airport that will take you directly to Tamarindo. How to do it is best described here. I prefer a shuttle, but if you want to save some money and are adventurous, the bus will get you there too.
Where To Stay in Tamarindo
There are many options of places to stay once you get to Tamarindo.
AirBnB, HomeAway or VBRO
Personally, I opted for a VBRO. I found a listing for a beachfront condo that was perfect. With the price, I really would not have done it any other way. We had a kitchenette where we were able to make a few meals with the fresh local produce. We were right on the beach, and the property manager, Donna, was very helpful and arranged a few activities for us. She was willing to do even more, but since I am an obsessive planner, we only reached out a few times for her help.
I highly recommend going to VBRO or AirBnB to get a condo walking distance to the beach for you to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Another great option is staying at a hostel. There are great options and the hostels below have been highly recommended.
Blue Trailz– Seriously, if you want to learn to surf, this is your place. They have affordable rate, but also have packages that include surfing lessons and rentals.
Things To Do In Tamarindo
This is where the fun really begins. There is so much to do in Tamarindo! First, you can enjoy the beach, browse the shops and enjoy the sun. Below are some of the favorite activities we enjoyed in Tamarindo.
High on my list of things to do was taking a surfing lesson. We scheduled some time at the Iguana Surf School and had a blast! They made surfing so approachable and we were able to ride a few waves standing up. They were great teachers that we highly recommend! Remember to wear tons of sun screen.
There are 3 main Catamaran companies in town. All of them offer similar experiences that were the same price while we were there. For $85/person we enjoyed a sunset catamaran cruise with an open bar and full meal. They pick you up around 12:30 at the beach and take you to a near by bay. They are constantly making sure your drinks are full as you sail out and through out the entire trip.
After sailing for a while you end up in a bay where you can snorkel, kayak or just hang out. Just before sunset, you head back to Tamarindo, stopping for the beautiful sunset along the way home. I know they fed us a typical Costa Rican meal along the way but can’t remember at which point. Either way, it was a great experience. They are sometimes marketed as a way to see marine life, but I would not go for that. Snorkeling was fun, but I had recently been to Puerto Rico where the snorkeling was much better. Still, it was a great memorable experience.
We chose to go on the Blue Dolphin which is a smaller. I figured we would get more personal attention since they have a maximum capacity around 35. They also turned on the music and had us dancing on the way back. Some other companies include Marina del Rey and Sailing Hibiscus.
Seeing nesting turtles is a unique experience not available in many places that I highly recommend! When we went it cost $35/person, which included transportation to the beach and for the guide to show us the turtles. They picked us up and took us about 20 minutes away to Playa Minas. Once you get there, the different companies work together to give tourists the best opportunity to find the turtles. We were there in early February and were able to see baby turtles making their way to the beach, a one turtle trying to nest but ended up turning back to the ocean and one turtle laying eggs. Along the way our guide shared facts explained the process of laying and hatching eggs. You can check where you are staying to see if they can set up a tour or you can book with one of these companies.
So we didn’t actually go fishing, but looking at all the great reviews and experiences other people had, I feel like we may have missed out. If you do enjoy fishing, here are a few of the top rated fishing charters that will take you out. One benefit of going fishing is you may also see whales, dolphins or other marine life.
Pedros Fishing – Not only do they have 5 star reviews on trip advisor, but all the reviewers were successful in fishing and they will help you find a restaurant that will prepare your fish for you!
Who wouldn’t want a massage on the beach?!? We loved it. Our first massage was beach side at a place that was very inexpensive and required no reservation. There were 4 massage tables set up next to the Tamarindo Hostel Resort. Many hotels also have someone they can call to schedule a massage for you. To schedule a massage check Spa Maya or the Revive Wellness Center.
If you have the time and want to take a day trip away from the beach, I highly recommend going to the volcano for the day. We spent some time at the Blue River Resort & Hot Springs and really enjoyed our time. The zipline was the best one I have ever been on (this was my 4th). We also went on a horseback ride and enjoyed a waterfall. The only downside is that it’s a rainforest and it rains a lot, which bothered some in our party, but the rain was warm and we still had fun.
In my opinion, the volcanic mud and hot springs are over hyped, I would not do that again.
There is also tubing and white water rafting available and they have amazing service and good food at their restaurant.
What To Eat in Tamarindo
In Tamarindo there are so many great places to eat! Here are a few that we really enjoyed. Regardless of where you end up, make sure you eat a traditional Costa Rican meal while you are there with rice, beans and plantains with fresh fruit juice.
Noguista – The food is great, the view is better. Come to Noguistas before sunset to enjoy a great view of the ocean. It’s right on the beach! We ate here twice and enjoyed it both times. The food is traditional Costa Rican and there are plenty of great options to choose from.
Dragon Fly Bar and Grill – Great intimate environment we really loved and amazing food.
Green Papaya – Amazing fish tacos and fun swinging chairs.
Off the Beaten Path
Soda Marcelo – This actually is not in Tamarindo, but it was our last meal on the way to the airport. On your way out of town, you will merge onto 152 heading south, away from the airport. Turn left onto Ave. Central. The restaurant is on the corner to the left across from the field which will be on your left. We really loved our last traditional meal. I also ordered mango juice and pineapple juice and could see them cutting the fruit fresh before putting it in the blender.
We hope you enjoy your trip to Tamarindo. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional tips!